Tuesday, 26 March 2013

The Poisoned Island by Lloyd Shepherd

review by Maryom

Harriott and Horton, heroes of Lloyd Shepherd's first novel, The English Monster, are back with a new mystery to unravel.
The Solander has just returned from a voyage to Tahiti - every spare inch of space above and below deck filled with specimens of exotic plants destined for the hothouses at Kew. Amongst them all is one special plant for the individual attention of Sir Joseph Banks, president of the Royal Society and financial backer of the voyage. The Solander's homecoming is not totally happy though. Within hours one of the crew is found dead - his throat cut, his room ransacked though no money taken and strangest of all a blissful smile fixed forever on his face. Magistrate John Harriott recognises this as an incident that calls for the unusual detecting talent of his constable Charles Horton and when he accidentally stumbles on more murders, Horton realises someone is stalking the Solander's crew and that the answers must lie in the ship's botanical cargo.

The Poisoned Island is a historical crime novel set during the reign of 'Mad King George', against the backdrop of Britain's exploration of the Pacific and plant-hunting expeditions when European botanists were extending their knowledge and trying to categorise the weird and wonderful plants to be found around the globe; there were high hopes of more finds such as the breadfruit tree discovered on Tahiti which became a major food source for West Indian plantations - and perhaps even of some miraculous cure-all plant. The Poisoned Island is full of amazing detail that brings the sights and sounds of early 19th century London - and Tahiti - to life on the page; events move from the hot tropical island, to the hustle and bustle of the docks of Wapping and Rotherhithe and to the more rarefied and genteel atmosphere of Kew with its massive greenhouses for the scientific study of the botanical marvels being brought back from around the world.
Having said that, the historical detail doesn't get in the way of a riveting thriller. While based around real historical people - for example,Joseph Banks was responsible for discovering and bringing back to England many botanical wonders -  the events of the Poisoned Island are totally fictitious. It's better in this regard than The English Monster which incorporated real murders and had me anticipating the unfolding of events; here they are all unexpected.
Charles Horton is back, of course, with his strange methods of observing and detecting rather than pouncing on the nearest suspect but I liked that this time his wife Abigail gets a slightly larger role - not only as a supportive wifely figure but as a woman interested in the scientific discoveries of the day and someone with a steady head, not given to the expected hysterics at the sight of blood. I half suspect she may be contributing more to her husband's investigations in future if some of his prejudices can be overcome.
An excellent read which should appeal to fans of both historical fiction and crime thrillers.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Simon & Schuster
Genre - adult, crime, historical fiction,

Buy The Poisoned Island from Amazon

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